Luis Bacalov was born on 30th August 1933 in San Martín, Buenos Aires Province, in Argentina, to a family of Ukrainian descend, whose Jewish traditions influenced his upbringing, even though he claimed later in life that he was agnostic. He began studying piano at the age of five with Professor Enrique Barenboim (Daniel Barenboim’s father), and continued his studies with passion and determination throughout his youth.
Between the late forties and early fifties Luis frequented the music venues of the ‘porteña capital’, that at the time was a hub of great cultural ferment, and he performed in concert with various formations.
At the age of nineteen he went on tour with an orchestra to several South American countries. The end of the tour brought him to Colombia, where he settled. During his four years in Columbia, he lived in Cali where, alongside his concert activity, he collaborated with the theatre director Enrique Buenaventura.
In this period, he married the journalist Teresa Escobar, whom he had met during a radio broadcast.
Also thanks to his resourceful wife’s support, the couple set sail for Europe. Luis’ first port of call was Spain, where he got signed by a Flamenco troupe and spent a whole year touring with them. Intolerant of the Franco political climate, the couple decided to leave Spain and move to Paris, where Luis perfected his craft. During his time in Paris he played piano in theatres and cabarets and there, in 1958, their first son, Daniel, was born, followed one year later, by their second daughter, Estelle.
In 1959 the Italian singer Claudio Villa contacted him and asked him to play the piano on his concert tour. Thus, he reached Rome, Italy.
For Luis it was “love at first sight”; the city as it was then, in the late fifties, made him feel at home. Seeing the many challenges of their Parisian life, Luis didn’t hesitate to ask his wife Teresa to join him together with their two young children in Rome, where a new phase of their lives began. Their third son, Giovanni, was born in 1961, followed, in 1965, by their fourth child, Anna Paola.
Shortly after, Luis moved to the countryside and founded the cooperative “La metafisica” with a group of friends with whom he shared his artistic activity as well as his desire to live in touch with nature.
In 1980 he separated from his wife Teresa and moved back to Rome.
From 1960 to the late seventies Luis, who was then signing himself as Luis Enriquez, worked at the RCA and Fonit Cetra studios as a composer, arranger and conductor. He worked with many singers, such as Nico Fidenco in Legata a un granello di sabbia, Edoardo Vianello in Il capello, Claudio Villa in Sono sempre qui, Milva in Una storia così, Gianni Morandi in Fatti mandare dalla mamma a prendere il latte, La fisarmonica, Se non avessi più te, Rita Pavone in Cuore, Il ballo del mattone, Che m’importa del mondo, Gino Paoli in La nostra casa, Umberto Bindi in Un ricordo d’amore, Il mio mondo, Neil Sedaka in La terza luna, Marisa Sannia in La mia terra, Ornella Vanoni in Tu mi hai baciato l’altra sera, Mina in Quando ero piccola, Patty Pravo in Come un Pierrot, Riccardo Cocciante in Rhythm, Lucio Dalla in Il cielo, Claudio Baglioni in Sabato pomeriggio and Mia Martini in Che vuoi che sia… se t’ho aspettato tanto.
In 1973 Luis and Sergio Bardotti co-wrote the music for I musicanti, album inspired by the tales of the Grimm Brothers and performed by the Ricchi e Poveri. In 1977 Chico Buarque de Holanda produced the Brazilian version of the record. Subsequently the musical was staged in Brazil, where it was acclaimed by both critics and audiences.
In 1981 a new edition of the album was released with songs performed by Lucio Dalla, Nicola Arigliano, Ornella Vanoni and Anna Identici.
Bacalov started a collaboration with Sergio Endrigo which lasted almost twenty years, composing and arranging numerous songs for the songwriter, among which: Canzone per te, Lontano dagli occhi, Io che amo solo te, Se le cose stanno così, Era d’estate, Elisa Elisa, and La Casa, a song for children which was followed by two LPs dedicated to a very young audience: L’arca, in which Endrigo sings the pieces co-written with Vinicius De Moraes and Sergio Bardotti, both involved with Luis Bacalov on several other projects, and Ci vuole un fiore, with lyrics based on Gianni Rodari’s poems.
In the fifties Luis began composing for cinema and, during his career, he composed numerous film scores, including Il Vangelo secondo Matteo directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Django by Sergio Corbucci, La Noia e Quien Sabe? by Damiano Damiani, A ciascuno il suo by Elio Petri, L’amica by Alberto Lattuada, Milano calibro 9 by Fernando Di Leo, Questa volta parliamo di uomini by Lina Wertmuller, La congiuntura by Ettore Scola, La tregua by Francesco Rosi, based on Primo Levi’s story of the same name, Roma bene and Hotel Meina by Carlo Lizzani, Panni sporchi by Mario Monicelli and Una storia semplice and Il consiglio d’Egitto by Emidio Greco. Part of the motif of the film score written by Bacalov for Il grande duello directed by Giancarlo Santi was used by Quentin Tarantino in his film Kill Bill. In 2012 Tarantino used some of the composer’s tracks in his film Django Unchained.
In the sixties Luis began a collaboration with director Franco Giraldi, writing the film scores for many films and television series including La bambolona, La supertestimone, La Rosa rossa, and la Giacca Verde.
In the late 1970s, he wrote the music for Federico Fellini’s film La città delle donne.
Luis’ fifth son, Gabriel, was born in 1983 to his partner, journalist Vanja Luksic.
In 1996 he won an Oscar for his musical score for Michael Radford and Massimo Troisi’s film Il postino.
In 1997 his partner, actress Nadia Ferrero, gave birth to Natalia, his sixth and youngest child.
In the seventies he composed music and worked on arrangements for Italian progressive rock bands. The album Concerto Grosso per i New Trolls was released in 1972. An early version of the suite, also performed by the New Trolls, became the film score of La Vittima Designata, directed by Maurizio Lucidi.
That year also saw the release of Preludio tema variazioni canzona, the film score of Milano Calibro 9 directed by Fernando Di Leo, written by Bacalov and performed by Osanna, a progressive rock band from Naples.
Contaminazione, a record of symphonic progressive rock, resulting from his collaboration with the band Rovescio della medaglia, was released in 1973.
In the late sixties/early seventies Luis composed Desbandes in collaboration with the saxophonist Gato Barbieri whilst also producing an installation with artist Edolo Masci which led to the record Pitturamusica.
Luis always felt a connection with South American classical and folk music, in particular tango, that he studied and listened to since a very young age, on the radio, on television and live in Buenos Aires’ clubs.
Luis’ musical production is influenced by tango, as evident when listening both to his classical compositions and his various film scores.
In 2000 he wrote Misa Tango for solos, choir and orchestra, which premiered in Rome, conducted by Myung-Whun Chung, and performed by the orchestra and choir of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. A CD was produced by Deutsche Grammophone.
In 2004 he wrote the opera Estaba la madre, commissioned by Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, a secular “Stabat Mater” that tackles the theme of the mothers of Argentinian desaparecidos during the military dictatorship of Videla.
From 2000 onwards Luis composed the concerts: Piano Concerto, Porteña (two pianos concerto), Violin concerto and Triple Concerto for soprano, bandoneón, piano and orchestra.
Additionally, he composed Tangana Ostinato for two pianos, Astoreando for chamber and philharmonic orchestras, Tanghitud 4 for various chamber ensembles, Baires Concerto for solo piano and Baires 1 Suite for piano, bandoneon and orchestra.
He made various arrangements for operas composed by Astor Piazzolla, including Libertango for solo piano and various chamber ensembles and philharmonic orchestras, as well as Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas for solo violin, harpsichord and string orchestra.
In July 2008 he inaugurated Settimana Musicale Senese with the opera-ballet Y Borges cuenta que. The libretto was by Carlos Sessano, Alberto Muñoz and Luis Bacalov, directed by Giorgio Barberio Corsetti, choreography by Anna Paola Bacalov and Tango scenes by Alex Cantarelli. He also wrote and produced Baires Concerto and Mi Buenos Aires Querido, directed by Carlos Branca. In July 2014 he took part in the Ravello Festival with the show Con El Respiro Del Tango, played by the actor Michele Placido and directed by Carlos Branca.
As per his symphonic activity, Luis was the principal director of Orchestra ICO della Magna Grecia in Taranto. He held a chair in Film score composition at Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena and taught at Accademia di cinema ACT MULTIMEDIA in Cinecittà in Rome.
During his lengthy concert career, both as orchestra director and pianist, he presented programs of folk music, traditional tango and the tangos of Piazzolla as well as tracks from his own film scores, such as Seducción from the film Assasination Tango, and tracks from film scores written by other composers, such as Ennio Morricone’s Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto.
He played with various chamber ensembles, also as a duo with pianist Alberto Pizzo, violinist Andrea Cortesi and flautist Massimo Mercelli. He founded a quartet with Giovanni Tommaso on double bass, Daniel Bacalov on drums and percussion, at the bandoneón Héctor Ulises Passarella, and later Juanjo Mosalini and Gianni Iorio, playing a repertoire of tango and jazz. In the last years of his concert career, he developed the project “3 Piano Generations”, a repertoire of jazz, tangos, classical music and film scores, which was played on 3 pianos by Luis, Alberto Pizzo and, in turn at different concerts, by Stefano Bollani, Danilo Rea and Rita Marcotulli.
Luis received numerous awards and nominations for the film score of Il Postino: an Oscar by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science, a David di Donatello, a Globo d’Oro by the Italian Foreign Press Association, a Nastro d’Argento by the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, a Bafta award by the British Academy for Film and Television Arts and a “Nino Rota” award.
Luis died on 15th November 2017 at the age of 84.